Friday, July 29, 2011

Baltimore to Oysterhaven

An odd motion of the boat woke me with a start around 03:30, a slight bumping and jerking uncomfortably reminiscent of her motion when floating off a trailer. Not having a functioning echo-sounder, I had relied on my charts to find a good depth for anchoring: could I have made a mistake? Perhaps even now we were going aground as the water ebbed all around us. Briongloid is a fin-keeler; she cannot take the ground without a friendly pier for support, and the subsequent rising tide would drown her for sure.

A glance at the harbour wall and a two bearings with my hand-compass reassured me; the tide had risen while we slept, and, mentally calculating forward from the tides of the previous day, should only be ebbing again around breakfast / anchor raising time. Back to my bunk.


I woke properly around 06:30 to what at first seemed like a viable offshore breeze. We raised sail and anchor, and began a slow glide out of Baltimore, drifting gently with the ebb. The wind soon disappointed, unfortunately, to the point where I decided to abandon ship, and jumped into the dinghy to row ahead and take some pictures.

From Bantry to Oysterhaven
Becalmed in Baltimore Harbour

Outside Baltimore, we gave up on the wind; I returned to the mothership, we sparked up the iron genoa, and re-commenced our journey eastwards. Almost immediately, we encountered a pod of a smallish whale species - could have been pilot whales. They seemed to have been travelling along the coast, and, when last seen, were paralleling Clear Island on their way out to sea.

We put-putted on past the Stag Rocks, a photogenic landmark, sadly in too much of a hurry to try free-diving the Kowloon Bridge. The wind did rise eventually, and at last we were able to cross Clonakilty bay under one of my favourite pieces of canvas, a large red genoa-ish sail cut quite round, very good for reaching. The wind was just right, just a nice strength from a pretty favourable direction. This was sailing as we dream of it, gliding easily across a flattish sea on a perfect summer afternoon, with nice views, and the pleasant feeling that home is only just over the horizon. My crew hopped into the dingy and let me sail past him a few times for photographic purposes.

From Bantry to Oysterhaven
Crossing Clonakilty Bay

The rest of the trip was very uneventful; our friendly wind died off eventually, and it was back to the infernal combustion engine for our last few kilometres, rounding close by the Old Head of Kinsale (there is something very like a fossil trackway on the great slabs that form the terminal cliff) and so past Big Sovereign to our home mooring, have travelled about 160 kilometres in about 48 hours, with only 2 of those hours spent on terra firma.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Berehaven To Baltimore

I awoke around 06:30 to find my boat still anchored in Lawrence Cove. Good start! A light breeze is raising light ripples - and is blowing our way. No engine this morning! We weighed anchor under mainsail and jib, washing some reassuringly clingy grey mud from the anchor flukes - ideal holding ground for our anchor.

Soon, the very convenient direction and strength of the wind suggests the notion of raising Briongloid's spinnaker. This gorgeous sail is very definitely the most frightening piece of equipment aboard, rockets and bolt-cutters included. My second best memory of this monster was the time I went forward to douse it; instead I was myself hoisted clear off the foredeck, arms clamped grimly to the starboard (outboard) end of the spinnaker pole, not actually overboard but taking a keen and lively interest in the possibility of returning to the deck at some point in the future.

The channel being broad and calm, with only a wreck or two for hazards, I pulled my old adversary from the forepeak and hoisted the gorgeous rascal. This time, we had a lovely run straight down-channel, our spinnaker submitting quietly to be gybed, and, eventually, doused, as we rounded up to exit Berehaven via its western channel. The lighthouse here has a nice feature: the beacon sends a fan of white light over the whole channel, and a much narrow red beam to show the fairway. When first built, it remained dark for some years. The notion of a lightless lighthouse did not amuse the local skippers, who didn't appreciate having to circumnavigate Bere Island to reach port via the (lit) eastern "man o' war" entrance (much the easier approach for sailing craft), leading to this parliamentary exchange with Baron Ritchie..

A port tack took us out of Bantry Bay and into the open Atlantic, propelled now by mainsail and genoa. A swell coming from the west and refracting around Dursey Island began to rise. As the land shrank astern, the crests rose higher and higher against the green hills on our beam (Sheep Head and Mizen Head), until, from our perspective in their troughs, they swallowed up the land entirely, even (I checked) when I stood on the fore-deck. Disconcerting as it was to be looking up at a wave, these giants were harmless, with a smooth, rounded shape and definitely no breakers.

We tacked in for Mizen Head eventually, crossing tracks with a lone dolphin who didn't stop to play. As we closed with the land, the sun came out and the wind died. Keen to see the landmark familiar from so many shipping forecasts, we came a little too close; replacing fickle wind with faithful engine, we blithely motored straight into the tide race than runs east of the Mizen during a flood tide (clearly shown on Admiralty charts, up to 4 knot currents at spring tides). Here, the wave fronts were short and vicious, and weird vortices betrayed extreme turbulence underneath. No more rising serenely over the summits; Briongloid slammed her bows straight through a particularly vicious specimen, which promptly burst all over the fordeck, passing safely over the anchor locker (well dogged down) and straight through the forehatch (ajar), whence its waters settled comfortably among our cushions and general effects. As the next wave ran eagerly after the first I jumped on the hatch, and remained damply in that position till sea and boat returned to their traditional configuration.

Eventually, normal service resumed. I went below for a doze. We found a whale, who showed no interest in us whatsoever and dived before we could identify it. My helmsman said "the whale is gone". I pointed out the very significance difference between absence of whale and invisibility of whale.

Fastnet Lighthouse (From Bantry to Oysterhaven)

We motored on, beckoned by the rather special Fastnet Light, old and beautiful navigation marker and part-time race buoy. It functions with roughly the same relation to yachts as a moth has to a candle; essentially, the ship killing reef and boiling tide race notwithstanding, it is too beautiful not to approach - two other boats were circling when we arrived.

From Bantry to Oysterhaven
Lot' s Wife, Baltimore

We turned in for Clear Island and Baltimore, passing a drowned calf and, later, cattle grazing on an un-fenced cliff-top by Lot's Wife, a Victorian re-build of a much older marker. We anchored in Baltimore harbour, near a very pretty Cornish Crabber, and ate with friends of my helmsman in a cafe above the harbour. After 13 hours and 70-odd kilometres, sleep came easily.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Bantry to Berehaven

On a fine July evening, microlights droned through a summer sky as we loaded Briongloid against the BBSC slipway in a couple of frantic minutes as the ebb tide sucked its way through the perilously thin margin of water below our keel, tossing kit bags, mattresses, ropes, groceries etc straight down the companionway. Then, suddenly, we were free, bow and stern lines back aboard, bow firmly set for open water, the last of the club moorings drifting past.

Windless, we put-putted out to sea, leaving the inner bay through the narrow channel by the airfield where a row of tiny aircraft now sat a-roosting. As Briongloid came abeam of the seal colony south-west of Whiddy Island and began to pitch gently in a faint swell, the chaos of embarkation was gradually resolved into packed lockers and tidy bunks. The sun slid gradually down towards the mountains that make up the backbone of the Beara peninsula, and we began to plot our entry to Berehaven.

As dusk fell, we tracked towards the lighthouse which has blinked its warning since the 19th century, marking the limit of the reefs defining the eastern "Man O'War" entrance to Berehaven. The non-sailor might imagine lighthouses, built as they are on boat-munching reefs, would be something of a deterrent, sending sailors on a wide wreck-averting arc; what is missed from this calculation is that when the sun is gone, the navigator perched in the cockpit of a tiny sailing boat is now afloat in a black void containing innumerable invisible rocks and just one or two with beacons that can easily be identified ten miles off (each having a locally unique sequence of flashes, printed neatly beside them on our excellent Admiralty charts). Being right beside the very well-lit danger gives one the great comfort of being far as possible from the hazards unseen.

I used the last of the daylight to go to Briongloid's tiny foredeck and flake the anchor rode. This procedure involves laying out the chain and rope which will keep the anchor and the boat connected after the former is dropped off the latter. This is an excellent opportunity to inspect the knots and shackles that tie anchor to chain and chain to rope. The bolt closing the second shackle I inspected had almost completely unscrewed itself; I covered its threads in Loctite and closed it up, banking another point in Mr Vigor's leaky black box. Measuring out the rode is actually quite an important job, because the length you need to drop off the bow depends on the depth of water you intend to anchor in: when the wind and tide try to pull your boat away, you want that tug to reach your anchor as a force which is as close to horizontal as possible, tugging its hook into the seabed. Use too little rode, and the wind may raise anchor for you; use too much, and your securely anchored boat may swing into a neighbour - or the shore - as the wind or tide changes.

Night was fully upon us as we entered Berehaven turned into Lawrence Cove, our chosen anchorage. "Haven" comes from the old Norse word höfn - so this cove is a harbour within a harbour, a really excellent place to shelter. One other vessel swung there already, a small ship with lights burning and generators humming. We gave them a wide birth, and dropped our hook, which shot the black water with bright sparks as it felt towards the mud, each little light a tiny animal in fear of our anchor, and attempting to advertise its passing to some larger predator. Not long after, I lay in my bunk and watched through the open companionway hatch some other tiny lights glide silently between the stars: satellites flying far above the shadow of the earth.

I woke once during the night to check our position with a hand bearing compass and sleepy eyes (another point for the black box). We never budged.